Work has begun on a $61.9 million building addition that will serve as the new home of the Washington Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory, which plays a crucial role in infectious disease monitoring, public health, food safety and the success of the state’s fish and livestock industries.
WADDL was established on Washington State University’s Pullman campus in 1974. Over the decades, demand for testing has grown as food and agriculture safety regulations have become more stringent, said Tim Baszler, the lab’s director. The lab conducts more than 210,000 individual tests each year.
The staff has grown, too, and now consists of 45 full-timers and 15 part-timers, along with 14 WSU faculty members and 13 veterinary residents training in pathology. More than 100 other students pursuing doctorates in veterinary medicine rotate through the lab during their fourth year of study.
This has made the lab’s current building, near Bustad Hall, feel a bit cramped.
“We’ve grown out of our space, basically,” said Baszler, a pathologist who’s worked at the lab since 1990.
A groundbreaking ceremony for the newer, bigger lab space – a 62,500-square-foot addition to the existing Paul G. Allen Center for Global Animal Health – was held Saturday afternoon. Speakers included Baszler; WSU President Kirk Schulz; Bryan Slinker, dean of WSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine; Derek Sandison, director of the Washington Department of Agriculture; and state Rep. J.T. Wilcox, the Republican House minority leader who raises chickens on a farm in Pierce County.
Laura Lockard, a spokeswoman for the College of Veterinary Medicine, said WSU spent about $1.9 million on planning and design work before the Legislature approved $23 million for the project in its 2018 capital budget. She said the university will ask lawmakers for another $36.4 million to complete the project in 2019. WSU officials say the project should be completed by January 2021.
Lockard said about 11,000 square feet of WADDL’s old space will be repurposed as labs and offices for the veterinary school. Baszler said the new space will not only provide more room, but also more technological features to isolate different parts of the lab’s work.
In addition to its training and research functions, WADDL works with state and federal agencies and commercial clients to look for diseases in animals and animal-based food products. This summer, pathologists there performed a necropsy on a cougar that was believed to have attacked two cyclists near Snoqualmie in May.
For the past two decades, WADDL, which has a branch laboratory in Puyallup, has been vital to Washington’s aquaculture industry, certifying that farmed fish and fish eggs are free of pathogens before they are shipped to other states or overseas. The lab also examines wild fish to understand what threats they may face.
“Some of it is for economic security, and others, like the wild fish, are just for surveillance purposes,” Baszler said.
The lab is also part of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Laboratory Response Network for Bioterrorism, which deals with substances such as anthrax, and another lab network run by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.